SEC Commissioner Makes Case for Marrying XBRL & ESG
Last month, I blogged that former SEC Chief Accountant Wes Bricker is working on an initiative at PwC that would translate sustainability reporting standards into an XBRL taxonomy. He isn’t the only one who sees promise in that coupling. In recent remarks, SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee — who has made it clear she wants to work on standardized ESG disclosure — said she might also support expanding XBRL to ESG reporting and other non-financial data. Here’s an excerpt:
What kind of data are we talking about here? The most basic information that an investor might want: how their money is being voted in corporate elections, and whether their shares are being voted in their best interest or in accordance with their instructions. We could bring much greater clarity and transparency to investors regarding how their voting rights are being exercised with the simple expedient of finalizing this rule and adding a requirement, as discussed in the proposal, to tag the Form N-PX voting data.
N-PX filings are voluminous in nature but would likely require relatively few, straightforward data tags. Thus we could potentially take a large body of important information and dramatically increase its usability through a relatively simple taxonomy.
Another area that could benefit from structured data to support usability and comparability is in the area of climate change and other ESG risks and impacts. As you all know, climate and other ESG-related metrics are of ever-increasing importance to investors, surpassing even traditional financial statement metrics for many. Of course, there are currently little to no standardized climate or ESG disclosure requirements. Indeed much of that disclosure occurs voluntarily and outside of SEC filings altogether. As I have said elsewhere, developing standardized climate and ESG disclosure requirements should be a top priority for the Commission. As we consider this, we should also consider how to make the data disclosed under such requirements as usable as possible, including through tagging requirements.
Much of our structuring requirements so far have been backward looking – requiring us to consider how to structure information that is currently disclosed in a non-structured manner. As we consider new climate and other ESG requirements, we would have the opportunity to simultaneously consider how to make those requirements amenable to structuring. Instead of an ex post facto application of structuring requirements, the two could develop in tandem.
Finally, I’ll just mention briefly, MD&A and earnings releases. As commenters including XBRL have pointed out, disclosures under MD&A may benefit from some simple block tagging that could greatly enhance comparability of certain relatively consistent types of information disclosed in MD&A. And earnings releases, particularly given their often market-moving nature, appear to be another well-suited candidate for tagging.
-Liz Dunshee, TheCorporateCounsel.net December 15, 2020
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